Wednesday, 15 February 2017

The Ghost of Valentine's Past

Every year the populace at large seems to gear up with excessive cheer for the holiday of Valentine's Day.  Hearts spring up everywhere.  Paper ones festoon the ceilings and windows of shops and homes.  Holiday cheer is found on every corner.  Pink blossoms in the most unlikely places and everyone bustles around talking of love and making dinner reservations for their loved ones.

And I, well, I am the Valentine Scrooge.  I mutter "bah humbug" at the sudden red tide sweeping through clothing departments.  I curse "rubbish" under my breath at the hearts on everything from cups, to teddy bears.  Cards of every variety are covered in red, pink and glittery horror declaring love, lust and a few other sentiments deemed appropriate for the holiday.  NO store or place is safe.  Red and pink flowers can be found at the garden nursery entrance.  Romance novels accost you at the entrance of the bookstore.  But worst of all is Home Depot.  HOME DEPOT!  Even the bastion of practical, get things done, down to earth type of active sensibilities is not safe from the dreaded holiday.

So, after grumbling my way past all of this blush coloured fervor I made it home.  And then as I fell asleep exhausted from the overwhelming assault of pink and red on my senses I wondered if maybe I was too harsh on the holiday.  Is Valentine's Day really so bad?  Maybe I'm just as bitter as they say.

The clock strikes midnight and I find myself unaccountably awakened by a presence.  Somehow I know it is St. Valentine.  It is probably the birds and roses that surround him that gave him away.

"St. Valentine," I begin "Am I hopelessly bitter like they all say?  And why do you have a rooster with you?"  I'm eminently practical even in my dreams you see.

"Ah, well, that's just one of my attributes." He says helpfully.  "But I've come to warn you about this holiday of mine."

"But why are you trying to help me?  Aren't you supposed to be busy taking care of couples in love?  You do know I'm single right?"

"I am the patron Saint of affianced couples, true.  But I am also the patron Saint of beekeepers, fainting, greetings, travellers, and plague.  You don't happen to keep bees, do you?"

"Um, no, I don't have any bees.  Wait, did you say plague?"

"I am here to warn you that you will be visited by the Ghost of Valentine's Past and urge you to listen to his warnings."

"Hold on, is this a Christmas Carol joke?  I don't want to appear ungrateful but I think you might be a bit early, you know, have the wrong holiday or some such thing."

"Listen to the warnings of the Ghost of Valentine's Past,"  He says eerily while he fades out of sight.
"Right that was odd," I say aloud to remind myself I am sane and dreaming.  I breathe deeply to calm my nerves, friendly or no, seeing apparitions is an unsettling business.  I notice the hint of rose fragrance growing stronger again and see St. Valentine beginning to reappear.

"Oh dear," he says confusedly "I always forget that part.  I am the Ghost of Valentine's Past.  How awkward.  Terribly sorry about all that fading in and out business.  Let's start, shall we?"

Without waiting for my brain to even process the whole turn of events St. Valentine grabs my hand and we fall upward it would seem into a mist that feels familiar and heavy and very far away all at once.  I'm a reader and I have realized that we are going to view my past Valentine's Day.  My only guess is as to the lesson that will follow.

We stop outside my old home in Phoenix where I am making Valentine cards with my mother and brother.  Happy hours spent in the company of people I love dearly, laughing and creating beauty out of little bits of this and that.  Eating chocolate that my father brought me and admiring the flowers he brought for mother I have an overwhelming sense of peace watching this scene from my memories.

St. Valentine sighs. "That is what it is all about.  Love."

Then we are flying through the fog again and we reach another time.  This time I am in a dark paneled room studying quietly for exams.  A few college friends bound in and find me caught up in my studies.  I cringe in anticipation of what is coming.  I had forgotten it was Valentine's Day and I was about to be mocked for wearing black.

"This is the first time they mocked you for being bitter about love," says St. Valentine.  "Ironically, this is not loving and may be the start of your real bitterness."

"I had just forgotten what day it was." I try to explain but the fog is closing in as the laughter fades away.

Then we whiz forward to a time I'd rather never visit again.  Except, I knew it was coming.  It starts well enough as St. Valentine and I stand in the balcony at the opera house where a friend and I are watching Madame Butterfly, both of us dressed up and having a fantastic time.  However, St. Valentine and I already know where this evening ends.  I smile ruefully with the knowledge of things to come.  Back at home, my drunk housemate arrives.  He tries to corner me in the stairs and I shudder in memory as I watch myself get away and flee up the stairs with a pounding heart.  The lock on the door did nothing to reassure me, then or now.  So many nervous moments and sleepless nights after that.

"I just had no idea they'd ever use my name to get drunk like this," says St. Valentine with as much horror as I felt.  "To think that my holiday is causing so much depression and drinking that it leads to THIS."  We both shudder and then move forward to the most recent Valentine's Day.

The fog is lightest of all here, for this is the current day.

"Aren't you supposed to let another ghost take over now?" I question mildly.

"Oh, well, there really aren't any others for this sort of thing.  And if you consider that this day really is over, well... I think as a past Valentine it can reasonably be said to fall within my purview."  He smiles clearly feeling triumphant.  "It is my holiday, after all."

So we watch the last portions of this Valentine's Day unfold.  Leaving the office rather late, I find a car too close to my car on the nearly deserted street.  Two men paying too much attention to my car for comfort are outside of the vehicle.  I recall, with visceral force, the fear that suddenly entered my body at this point.  St. Valentine and I watch as I pretend more calm than I feel and I return at a sedate pace to the office where I waited for them to leave.  My imagination is still running rampant from this latest episode.

"What were they doing anyway?" I feel the need to know.  Hoping to find out that they were security guards concerned about my safety rather than two large men planning terrible things for me.

"Oh, that.  I'm not sure honestly.  I'm just supposed to show you the past Valentine's so you can learn from them."

"Ok, ok.  I understand what you are saying.  There is no denying I'm bitter about this holiday.  But, you've seen my reasons why.  I don't hate love.  I'm not bitter about my relationship status.  I just want to feel safe and be allowed to hate pink like I do every other day of the year.  What am I supposed to do to overcome this bitterness, Valentine?  Wear pink?  Make Valentine cards for everyone?"

"NO.  You've missed the point entirely.  Love is what is missing from all these recent Valentine's days.  Tell your parents you love them.  Hug your cat..."

"And love everybody right?  And I'll just stop being bitter about the past?"

"No.  You're not bitter about love.  It's just been lacking from these scenes.  Next year when Valentine's Day comes around I'm truly concerned about your safety.  Stay in.  Lock the door and only answer it from behind the dogs."

"Is that all?"  I ask bewildered by this sudden turn of events.

"OH, and above all," St. Valentine adds, "Next year... wear black.  And you're a mad hatter.  Do me proud and throw in a hat."

As he fades away for the final time I smile knowing that I'll sleep really well for the first time in days.  I might even dream of the demise of Barbie pink hues everywhere.

"Let me know if you ever need any help with bees," St. Valentine shouts from the distance of the ages.

"I will!" I shout back.

Tomorrow I'm going to get an early start and wear all black in honour of my little adventure.  And I'm going to do so while enjoying discounted Valentine's Day chocolates and smiling about my newfound guiltlessness at hating this holiday, not love.

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